Kenosis: THE QUESTION OF PECCABILITY VS IMPECCABILITY IS THE ANSWER FOUND IN THE KENOSIS PASSAGE?

THE QUESTION OF PECCABILITY VS IMPECCABILITY:

IS THE ANSWER FOUND IN THE KENOSIS PASSAGE?

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[1] Philippians 2:5-11, New King James Version

 

With this simple statement concerning the humiliation of Christ, Paul the Apostle would demonstrate a primary function of scriptural power: confounding the wisdom of man through its sheer simplicity. In the modern era of theological debate, there is possibly no other passage that has rankled the minds of the scholarly or has elicited any greater passion in the field of debate among theologians. Constrained within its confinement are the pivotal ideas that formulate a distinctly Christian theological perspective, namely the incarnation and its implications hoisted upon the Christological questions surrounding it. These questions include the debate and resolution of two natures confined within one person, homoousios, or of one/same substance, argued and concluded in two separate primary church councils (Antioch, 268 A.D., Constantinople, 381 A.D.),[2] the very attributes of God, both those classified as communicable and non-communicable attributes, as the old Reformed theologians would say.

In the first group there is found “the theologians lumped together qualities like God’s spirituality, freedom, and omnipotence, along with His moral attributes-goodness, truth, holiness, righteousness, etc.”[3] In the second group there is an inclusion of attributes that exemplify God’s utter transcendence, highlighting the significant irreconcilable differences between holy God and fallen man without the intervention of a mediator to render assistance and aid. Here “the usual list was God’s independence (self-existence and self-sufficiency), His immutability (entire freedom from change, leading to entire consistency in action); His infinity (freedom from all limits of time and space: i.e., His eternity and Omni-presence); and His simplicity (the fact that there are in Him no elements that can conflict, so that, unlike man, He cannot be torn different ways by divergent thoughts and desires).”[4]

Theologians have historically identified these characteristics as being incommunicable as they are possessions held by God alone. As such, they are incapable of being shared by mankind. Of the first group, most theological schools tend to agree that Christ both held and walked within their expressions. This is the crux of Paul’s assertion in Philippians Chapter 2. God somehow became man. Down through the ages this has been the prima fascia of belief among the Christian community. God indeed became man. Even here, some scant thirty years following the end of the earthly ministry of Jesus;[5] Paul affirms both His life ministry and after-life/post-incarnation life ministry: exaltation and glorification with the bestowal of a name above every name.

The problem of Christology arises not in communicable areas of concern. Rather they are to be found in non-communicable categories pertaining to the issues surrounding Christ’s humanity and His human relationship to those already stated attributes. This paper will focus on this apparent difficulty with great humility. Its approach shall be to identify the views of theology concerning Christ’s peccability or impeccability with the intention of defending the peccability school of thought using the Kenosis passage of scripture as a base of understanding these most complex areas of theology. Hopefully, this will not result in an exercise of futility and the straying from an orthodox position theologically.

Even from its infancy, the discipline of theology has been forced to confront the complexities of the nature of Christ. Churchmen have long held to a belief in the duel nature possessed by the one God/man Jesus Christ. From the great Apostle Paul as previously cited to John the beloved in John 1:14; “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us[6] or one of Paul’s other assertions as recorded in 1 Timothy 3:16; “God was manifested in the flesh.”[7]

There also exist numerous other First Century references and allusions to this integral belief of the Christian faith. The early Apostolic Fathers also weighed in on this crucial subject matter as they carried on the tradition of commenting on Christological matters. Listen to their testimony as they speak down through the annals of history; “…there is one physician who is possessed of both flesh and spirit… both made and not made… both of Mary and God” (Ignatius, c.105);[8] “truly of the seed of David according to the flesh… Son of God according to the will and power of God” (Ignatius, c.105);[9] “though the Son was incorporeal, He formed for Himself a body after our fashion… He is God” (Melito, c.170);[10] “(the Gnostics) therefore, who allege that He took from a virgin nothing, do greatly ere…” (Irenaeus, c.180);[11] “He Himself declared… of what substance He is, man and God” (Tertullian, c.197);[12] and finally, Hippolytus, c.205; “…although as man He became one of the dead, He remained alive in the nature of His divinity.”[13] These and many other similar statements by the Nicene Fathers which are too numerous to cite under the present constraints, and other’s also considered to be Father’s within the Church act as the foundation from which the doctrinal understanding of the Hypostatic Union would rise from.

All of these refer to the duel nature: none deal directly with the issue of Christ’s relationship to the human sin nature and its consequences. This area of concern has been the subject of a long and bitter debate over “how to reconcile proper deity and true humanity.”[14] It has given rise to a diversity of opinions and speculation, none of which was more contentious than the historical period following the Nicene Council. Many well-intentioned scholars were reduced to fracturing faith and fellowship in their personal insistences over an “unwillingness to surrender what they could not immediately rationalize.”[15] Thus the issue of Christ’s sinless character and its implications as to action (could He or could He not actually sin?) would be left to be addressed for the era of the Reformation and beyond.

In one camp there are those who hold to the theory (doctrine) of impeccability (impeccabitas, Latin),[16] which revolves around the idea of Christ’s sinlessness (anamartesia).[17] According to The Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, “sinlessness is to be without sin (anamartetos).”[18] Both of these terms are applicable to Jesus Christ in His human/divine nature that had not yielded to temptability, which is the ability to be tempted, and in the case of Jesus only from external sources according to Elmer Towns.[19] John Walvoord’s work, Jesus Christ Our Lord, addresses the issue of impeccability from a Reformed perspective. He states; “orthodox theologians generally agree that Jesus Christ never committed any sin… [It’s] a natural corollary to His deity and an absolute pre-requisite to His work of substitution on the cross.”[20]

Walvoord goes on to write about the division among theologians within the ranks of orthodoxy as to whether or not Christ’s sinlessness is the same as Adam’s prior to the fall, or did Christ possess a unique character/nature influenced and controlled by the divine nature, thus making Christ’s human nature intrinsically different than the rest of humanity.[21] In deference to this argument over the division as to whether or not Christ could sin in being tempted, Walvoord argues for the uniqueness and impeccability of Christ.

The presence of a human nature by virtue of its character implies an ability to be tempted. The question is does temptability by itself constitute enough force to produce a real ability to sin. Theologians almost certainly agree with the supposition that Christ did not sin. The problem is, even among Reformed circles, there is not a general consensus as not everyone agrees on this subject. Charles Hodge in his famous work Systematic Theology states that the “sinlessness of our Lord… does not amount to absolute impeccability… if he was a true man He must have been capable of sinning.”[22]

Walvoord as well as his strong influence, Lewis Sperry Chafer in Major Bible Themes[23] sharply disagrees with Hodge. They assert that a firm conviction must be held in two critically important areas within incarnation theology; “(1) Christ became at the same time and in the absolute sense very God and very man and (2) in becoming flesh He, though laying aside His glory, in no sense laid aside His deity.”[24] This is a powerful and salient point that must always be kept at the forefront of all-theological questioning in particular when the nature of Christ is being examined. This is an important statement relating to the issue at hand although it may not readily appear so at first blush.

This is seen in the primacy of unio personalis,[25] or personal union between Christ’s human nature and the divine pre-existent Word nature combined into the one man Christ Jesus. Walvoord, J.I. Packer, James Boyce, and a host of others argue that any other view exposes Christ’s work to a form of reductionism, reducing deity to the arena of possibility as opposed to the firmness of a conclusive end. This is a compelling argument indeed that utilizes the Hegelian model of a dialectic argument, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis as a support.                                                           This can be seen in the model below                                                                                                                               Word

Sinless eternally Christ         Sinless/temptability

Jesus Temptable

The unresolved complexity can be seen in the opposite camp of peccability (ability to sin). The term again is derived from the Latin term peccata.[26] There is no debate as to humanities susceptibility to sin, particularly when original sin and its effects are weighed. Further examination is appropriate however, in dealing with sins potential. Theologically; “a basic distinction can be made between (1) peccata voluntaria, voluntary sins, which are the result of positive human willing, and (2) peccata involuntaria, involuntary sins, which do not arise out of malice but out of ignorance, fear, and the like.”[27]

Philippians 2:7, which is presented in a hymn/song format,[28] identifies the importance of the Hypostatic Union. Jesus had to have a Divine Father and a human mother for these two natures to be combined into a real person. This truth is also seen in the favorite self-designation used by Jesus: Son of Man. No other doctrine is as important for a basic understanding of the Hypostatic Union and consequently the area of peccability as is the subject of God, the Son of Man. To deny the reality or the place of peccability concerning Christ is to run the risk of falling into the error of Doceticism. Docetic heresy, as expounded by Shirley Guthrie in Christian Doctrine asserts that the understanding of Hypostatic Union was necessitated not simply as a response to Gnosticism, but of equal importance, as a counter-balance against Docetic error.[29] This error can be encapsulated by examining the Greek verb from which its meaning is derived. Literally it means ‘to seem.’ This teaching asserted that Jesus is only divine and only appears to be human. That is, He is hiding behind the mask of His humanity, hiding the true God-self underneath, thus never necessitating a risk of sinning. According to this view the divine Logos attempted to walk incognito in the midst of mankind.

Found within the boundaries of this belief system was the idea that the purpose of Christ was not to help us in the world, but rather to help us escape the world. As such, Jesus as man was not dissimilar to any modern mythological comic-book type hero who would only appear as God on certain special occasions to right wrongs or other assistances to humanity like Super-Man or Cyclops of the XMen.

Rodney Decker, Associate Professor of New Testament at Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit PA, comes dangerously close to lapsing into this form of error in an unpublished internet document on the Philippians 2:5-11 on the Kenosis passage.[30] In his zeal to counter the Liberal German Kenotic theologians, including Gottfried Thomasius (1802-75), Decker states “Jesus did not empty Himself of anything,” and “the text says nothing about attributes.” Decker follows this with an assertion that Jesus still possessed the morphe of God during the incarnation, thus relegating the body of Christ to a “likeness of humanity… in that condition He did not manifest the morphe outwardly. That He still possessed (it)… may be seen in the transfiguration.” He concludes his observations by stating, “The morphe doulou [only] served as a temporary veil cloaking the morphe theou.” This extreme view is also under girded by others; however it is modified by Walvoord in Jesus Christ Our Lord as he claims Christ surrendered no attribute of deity, but that He did voluntarily restrict their independent use in keeping with His purpose.”[31] Henry C. Thiessen surmises the same conclusion in, Lectures In Systematic Theology.[32] Decker’s allegations reveal the veritable mine-field of exegetical complexities that surround the subject of Christ’s attributes as pertaining to His being God in the flesh.

It is also important to deal with the anthropological implications of Christ’s humanity if there is to be a full appreciation of the sacrificial nature of His divine work in securing a functional model or vehicle for salvation to have a platform from which it was/is to operate in its substitutional nature. God the Son, who is conversely the son of Man doctrinally, can be seen as the hub of the wheel, giving meaning and expression to all the other doctrinal content found in Scripture.

From this vantage point the initiate learns who Jesus is by observing what He does. It is impossible to separate the two, the person Jesus from the work Jesus performs. To do so would send the inquirer into a downward spiral, ending in a dualistic approach to the Christ event, creating a modified Appolonarianism (another early heresy that held Jesus was 2/3 human, 1/3 divine). There are distinct problems associated with the veiled humanity belief. It can lead to a subtle acknowledgement of a theology that accepts a divine deception mode as part of its belief system. Granted, there are distinct challenges surrounding the seemingly irreconcilable attributes of immutability and peccabilities broad spectrum of influence. This problem pales in comparison to the ones created within a belief system that accepts a thesis and inherent acceptance of the idea that God would deliberately deceive out of His own volition and character. If error is to be embraced, better to stray on the side of God’s truthfulness and integrity.

Another point, which should be considered in any dialog relating to the incarnation, as presented in scripture is the birth story of the Christ. This account of the arrival of Jesus supports the non-seperability of Jesus and His work.[33] The focal point of Christianity is the reality in a very present sense that ‘God is with us.’ The God with us principal isn’t addressing a mere masquerade, feeling or spiritual presence. It is the essence of reality, of geography, of politics, of economics, and of history. In other words it encompasses the human experience, as it exists in a fallen world.[34] Jesus was a real man, not a divine idea as supporters of a Platonic philosophical inclusionary model would suppose, where ideas supersede the physical as the ultimate in reality.

Some, including Walvoord and Chafer (Jesus Christ Our Lord; Major Bible Themes) concur if reluctantly, that the incarnation is meant to preserve the deity of Christ.[35] Again, this moves perilously close to the realm of Doceticism, which also held that Jesus was not a real man but was a spiritual being concealed to look or appear to look like man. To help clarify this matter, it should be noted that the difficulty appears to be formulated in a basic adherence to a type of cosmological dualism as presented by Plato. This is important to note, as philosophy has long been seen as the handmaiden of theology, as the saying goes. To hold the veiling of God ideology, is to embrace the thought that Jesus was born with an innate conceptualization of who He was, and that He always walked with this self identification. This view could produce an altered version of the Magnificat, where Jesus would immediately look into Mary’s eyes right after traveling through the birth canal, and pronouncing, “Hail Mary full of grace the LORD is with you, because He is Me.”

The early theologians established a primary acceptance of philosophical ideas that continue to be used quiet handily and readily to this day. The problem surfaces when Paul’s views are only expressed in a Greek format or one that is dominated by this framework. Eldon Ladd notes in, A Theology of the New Testament, “Paul’s view of creation [and anthropology] is typically Hebrew and not Greek.”[36] The implications are easily seen as Ladd goes on to say; “whatever the morphe theou is, whatever Jesus emptied Himself of in His incarnation, one fact is clear… something new has been bestowed upon Him-a new name indicating a new role and status: Kyrios.”[37] Ladd continues his train of expositional thought by asserting; “the significance of the title Kyrios is found in the fact that Kyrios is the Greek translation of the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, the covenant name of God in the Old Testament.”[38]

This is an important consideration in the peccability debate as the argument is based on a syllogism seen as such: “God is unchanging. God cannot sin. Jesus is God. Therefore Jesus cannot sin.” The difficulty again revolves around the discussion of the Kenosis passage, which many theologians connect to the issue of sin concerning Christ. To hold that Jesus as God could not lay aside divine prerogatives such as His natural attributes and still remain God is a syllogistic anomaly. To accept this view from a Greek formula holds that the taking away through limitation voluntarily or otherwise changes or detracts from God’s basic essence, thus exposing him to a theological framework that would cause Him to cease to be God. This is a basic formulation concerning Christology and impeccability.

The doctrine of impeccability revolves around the idea of how human was Jesus really? As Alva McClain points out in a published article taken from the Spring 1998 issue of The Master’s Seminary Journal concerning the Kenosis; “if metaphysical difficulties arise, they must yield to the moral requirements of the incarnation… better a thousand times give up our conception of an absolute God than admit He is incapable of real moral heroism.”[39] He continues with the addition; “no supposed metaphysical problems should be permitted to reduce the doctrine of our Lord’s Kenosis to the point where it becomes a mere shadowy, Docetic semblance.”[40]

The area of kenosis reflects readily the problem of discounting what constitutes change as articulated by Paul in Philippians Chapter 2. To simply fall upon an assertion that Paul never identifies what Jesus emptied Himself of fails to grasp the reality of the scriptural statement. As Ladd stated earlier, “He was emptied of something.”[41] To deny that Christ’s powers were not limited in any way and to then insist that the significance is found in what is referred to as the humiliation of Christ, the taking on of a servant form as verse 7 indicates is to express the same argument that has been contended as being erroneous. To take on a morphe that is truly human as the Christological Creeds demand, truly God and truly human, is to subject the incorporeal nature of God who is Spirit to change, thus the syllogism doesn’t hold up to a philosophical inquiry. Does not the addition of human form imply change to that which had been intangible as divine Word? Even the most ardent anti-Kenotic theologians hold to the view that Christ now exists in a glorified morphe that will forever be identified with Him throughout eternity. The point of this area of discussion about change in morphe and its titular designation is to bring light on the discrepancy of insisting that change can only be viewed as acceptable in one form and not in any other way.

The dilemma posed in this narrow approach to interpretation of scripture is in its tendency to lead the interpreter down the path of error that D.A. Carson addresses in Exegetical Fallacies. “By adopting a model of theology that has difficulty in addressing certain key biblical passages, the temptation arises to ignore the guide of distanciation in the interpretive process.”[42] This in turn can lend itself to changing the meaning of words in order to subject a passage of Scripture to the theological school of thought in question.”[43] The Greek verb Kenoo is a good example. In every instance of usage, two in the New Testament and eight totals in the LXX altogether, the word means to empty. It is used of water, grain, emotion, among others, but it is always used in the context of subtraction, never with the implication of addition. This poses a problem of enormous proportions by exposing prejudicial treatment of Scripture, subjecting it to personal biases in theology, thus violating rules governing first use, the self-interpreting nature of scripture, cultural considerations, word study problems, among a whole litany of subjects.[44] The list could go on and on.

To appeal to unknown or unlikely meaning should be minimized at best. As to the issue of peccability/impeccability, the inference exists. If Scripture indicates a emptying, it is appropriate to conclude as Carson does in modifying Walvoord’s “independent exercise of attributes”[45] by asserting “[Jesus] abandoned some substantial measure of independence in the use of His divine prerogatives.”[46]

To accept partial abandonment, limited use, or non-independent use of non-communicative attributes, opens up the limited access to very human responses on the part of Christ. These limitations which apparently were agreed upon in the pre-determinative Council of God, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace  (Ephesians 1:4-7) grants access, not to sin but to the reality of possibility if indeed there is to be a perfect real substitutional sacrifice for sin, For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:

“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come— In the volume of the book it is written of Me— To do Your will, O God.’”

Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…(Hebrews 10:1-10), and a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. 17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people… Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens… Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary… For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (Hebrews 2:16-17; 8:1; 9:1-2,24).[47]

For temptability to be true, temptations end had to be possible, just as in the first Adam. Matthew 4:1-11 and its corollaries in the synoptics identify the strength of temptation leveled against Jesus as Son of Man. He indeed was tempted, tested, tried and enticed to commit evil action,[48] and yet He overcame here and in each successive attack leveled against Him up to His ignoble death upon Golgotha’s tree. The apex of this struggle is seen in its best iteration or incarnation as Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. In every instance Jesus as a pristine man never wrestled with the internal impulses of inherited sin or sin that had been yielded to as the human race is wont to do. His temptations were always external in their manifestation. Internally His impulses would have been pure.

Some have argued that these internal impulses only allowed conflict within the arena of doing the divine will. This is a point that can readily be conceded in the area of peccability, as this was the all-encompassing mission of Christ: to do the will of the Father. Thus the area of temptability far supersedes that of normal sentient human beings. It is cosmic in nature, not temporal, as Ladd would say.[49] To fail once in the unfolding levels of revelation through the successive crisis as an article on, Son of God, in Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible alleges would have been disastrous. This article infers Jesus divine consciousness/awareness developed through a series of successive crisis encountered in His life experience from His temple visit at 12 years of age, His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. 43 When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; 44 but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. 46 Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. 48 So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. 51 Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:41-52), and concluding at the crisis of the cross. These crisis are identified as; (1) temple visit (Luke 2:41-52; (2) baptism (Matthew 3:13-17); (3) temptation (Luke 4:1-11); (4) transfiguration (Matthew 21:1-11); (5) premonition of death and resurrection (Matthew 20:17-19); (6) triumphal entry (Matthew 21:1-11); (7) lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39); (8) the last supper (Matthew 26:17-35); (9) Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-56); (10) His final trial (Matthew 26:57-27:26); (11) climactic cry for help from the cross (Matthew 26: 46-50); (12) and His concluding statement from the cross: “it is finished (John 19:30)!”[50] Each of these crisis points presented with it the tension of decision. To fail to perform by doing what was proper and to follow the will of God would have had the direst of consequences upon salvific history.[51]

Jesus peccability is not viewed in the same light as normal human peccability. Human peccability is multi-faceted, encompassing the areas of original sin, actual sin, acquired sin, inherited sin, and most of the other theological designations relating to the sin issue. It would not stretch the matter to say that had Jesus failed, His sin would have been “peccata enormia: unusually great sin.”[52] This argument removes Jesus from the more profane and carnal sins that plague and infect mankind. It places the possibilities in a much grander perspective, one that is vertical in nature, not horizontal, as it would adversely affect the Heaven to Earth aspect of salvation, and would not be seen as failure between those who are bound by the limitations that belonging to this present evil age represents. Due to the fall, humanity is subject to both. Jesus was not under the curse of original sin; hence vertical is the measure of risk He would be subjected to in measuring out the impact of Jesus failure had it occurred.

Walvoord nominally lends support to this idea in his treatment of Kenosis (Jesus, p. 144), as he examines Jesus miraculous power expressions. He concedes, “On at least two separate and distinct occasions Christ is revealed to have performed His miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit,” But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon youThen Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. 15 And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. 16 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord

(Matthew 12:28; Luke 4:14-19).[53]

In these two instances Christ chose voluntarily to be dependent upon the power of the Father and the Holy Spirit to perform His miracles.[54] Dr. Walvoord then goes on to cite other references that do not specifically state that the power utilized was in subjection to the Father and Holy Spirit, thus stating that Jesus independently exercised divine power on earth.[55]

A question could be raised at this juncture in the area of fair treatment of the whole Council of God in scriptural matters. Is it not appropriate to take into consideration Jesus other statements of a relational nature; “My Father and I are one;” “I only do what I see my Father doing;” “I must be about My Father’s business;” or Gethsemane’s cry: “if at all possible, let this cup pass from Me (sins possibility),” to Jesus response: “nevertheless, not My will but Your will be done.[56] These statements coupled with numerous others of the same manner make a very compelling case for Jesus dependence upon Father and Holy Spirit for direction, strength, empowerment, among a myriad of other felt and unfelt needs.

Walvoord does address the issue in a cursory fashion as he states; “{the} anointing of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 4:18) would support the conclusion that many of Christ’s miracles were performed in the power of the Holy Spirit.”[57] He then goes on to negate this with an appendage to this statement by adding “but His deity still included omnipotence which was not surrendered in the Kenosis.”[58] Walvoord continues as he states that he believes:” Christ surrendered no attribute of deity, but that He did voluntarily restrict their independent use in keeping with His purpose of living among men and their limitations.”[59] To this there should be universal consensus. The question of Kenosis and peccability would be resolved if there was a common understanding in the area of pre-determinative Council of God and its power on the subject of Jesus access to divine prerogatives. This weighs heavily on accountability in consistent application of biblical interpretation. Does Scripture support divine limitations super-imposed on Christ? If so, were the restrictions permanently imposed during the human segment of Christ Jesus ministry (meaning the 30 some odd years He existed as Son of Man in Palestine)? To deviate and insist on an interpretation that accepts an on/off application comes perilously close to Appolonarianism as previously addressed.

The importance to the peccability question cannot be underestimated, for if the subjection of Christ was real, it moves the question of temptability and peccability into the greater dialog of God’s infinite immensity as seen in His Foreknowledge. The knowledge God possesses in His Council is where this paper believes the issue of peccability needs to be properly understood.

To be true to an acquiescence of limitation (Kenoo) of any sort, it must be deduced that human possibilities enter into the equation. This is consistent with the rational of the virgin birth’s purpose. Some have argued it was necessary to preserve divinity. This is not the case from a protestant perspective. He already was divine. To hold the divinity theory reduces the birth of Jesus into another, albeit superior, expression of theophonic/ anthropomorphic manifestations, not unlike the pre-New Testament appearances of Christ (for an in depth treatment of this subject refer to Elmer Towns Theology for Today-the Angel of the Lord).[60]

Jesus was a real, Jewish man, not a heavenly ideal, not an abstract God thought, as Platonic philosophy would insist were its grid placed over Scripture. In His reality Jesus was a First Century Jew, not an Anglo-Saxon. He was a man of strength and determination, harsh about hypocrisy (Matthew 23:17, 23:33). Jesus was non-conforming in His nature. He came to “disturb the peace” (Mark 12:49-53; Matthew 10:34-39). He is seen as both kind and compassionate to the downtrodden sinner, and fearless in His revolutionary opposition to religious stagnation.

In His humanity Jesus encountered virtually every human need and appetite:

  • Hungered, became thirsty, needed rest and sleep, suffered and died
  • Had limitations in knowledge, But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Mark 13:32)
  • Had to grow in wisdom and stature, And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52)
  • Had to pray for authority, actions, direction (seeing and hearing the Father)
  • Wrestled with God’s will in Gethsemane, Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” 39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will (Matthew 26:36-39)
  • Doubted the Father’s presence with Him, And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)
  • Tempted to sin, Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” 11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:15)
  • Was without sin, For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15)

 

All of these theological insistences under-girds a basic Protestant thesis: Jesus sinlessness is not attached to Mary’s virginity, as Protestant theology correctly surmises: there is no immaculate conception that caused Mary herself to be sinless. Jesus is sinless as man, not because He escaped some unidentifiable biological defect. He is sinless because he lived without sinning.

Nicaea’s (AD 325) insistence upon a non-scriptural term to illustrate biblical revelation is more than appropriate. Homoousios, the consubstantial/same substance belief allows for an expression of sinless existence. Its implementation and actualizing is found in God’s Foreknowledge. Did God know Jesus would be subject to sin’s susceptibility?  The answer must be yes to give credence to a belief in temptability. The overriding issue however, is seen in the pre-knowledge God possessed in the pre-determinative outcome. Jesus would not sin, therefore making the argument moot. Kenosis, peccability, and impeccability: all rest upon that which is not temporal. They exist in the revelation of God’s immutability and in Jesus constant sharing in His divine attributes through the unity of the Trinity as expressed through voluntary pre-determined, pre-birth directives.

This perspective frees up the Christological conundrums, allowing Jesus as man to live as man for God and as man with and for His fellow humanity as well. It allows for the hyperchon (existing) of Philippians. Jesus always has been, and always will be God, before, during, and after the incarnation.

It also allows for an emptying (Kenoo) in a truly passive sense, making allowance for Christ to be exclusively dependent upon the other members of the Godhead for the use of any and all divine prerogatives. This places the onus upon the Father and Spirit and their insistence for usage of these instances. This is an allowable vantage point when one accepts the position of Christ’s place in the Trinity as being unbroken. This dependence allows Jesus to speak with the veracity of truth in stating His temporal lack of knowledge as to His imminent return during the incarnation dialog with the Apostles (Mark 13:32). Those, to whom He has always committed His loyalty and fidelity to, held this knowledge in trust: the Father and Holy Spirit.

His morphe (form) could indeed be found as a servant, subject to the restrictions and possibilities of human existence without violating His ‘Godness.’ Thus His fashioning (schemati) has profound implications on appearance in its various necessitations. His appearance, looks, features, constitution, and His manner of life, would contain all of the innate characteristics that humanity was meant to possess prior to the races devolving into a sub-human expression, taking on the constraints of sin through the fall. Jesus was then free (a divine attribute) in the partaking of His attributes and His humanity precisely at the same time being truly God and man equally at the same time.

It allows for the freedom of change in God’s morphe, as He would take on physical essence. It allows for the sufferings of human limitations to be superimposed upon Jesus, as it exists with all of mankind in order to rectify the loss Adam incurred in the Garden. Jesus did appear in bodily form fighting for the dignity of humanity on human turf. Christ fought for control of a world dominated by sin and Satan through His sinless perfection. The Kenosis sets the stage for the battle of the ages, kingdom conflict, winning over the infliction sin created.

In this light Christ Jesus the man exemplifies the union God originally intended for Adam’s race: True man united and dependent upon true God. The Kenosis was imperative with all its limitations and possibilities if man was to be restored along with the rest of the creative order, For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Romans 8:22). This takes into account both a primary and plenary sense of interpreting the Kenosis passage and its impositions upon the question of peccability and impeccability.[61]

It also gives credence to a much broader understanding than that which Lewis Sperry Chafer presents in, Major Bible Themes when he relegates the Kenosis to simply being “a manifestation of the character of Christ,”[62] although his continued treatment of its implications in the life of the believer are priceless gems.[63]

As in so many issues of doctrine and revelation, much is shrouded in the mist of mystery. No one really knows exactly what Christ gave up in the Kenosis. The Apostle Paul does not specify the details; he simply asserts its reality. If humans could know and relate to what it means to be in the form of God, insight might be granted as to what was given up in Kenosis. This is impossibility however, as there can only be one God/Man and His name is Christ Jesus, the Lord of Glory. To return this discussion to its opening allusions, it would be wise to heed to McClain as he points out the inherent difficulties surrounding the identification of the form of God as necessitating its association with His essential nature. To do this creates an irreconcilable dilemma from an Christological perspective. It creates the uncomfortable position that either God would cease to be God or the Kenosis must be then explained away. Extricating exposition away from either proposition is untenable at best. Form and nature are not intermingled or viewed as equal or necessary in this passage. As McClain states, “God-form certainly presupposes a God-nature, but it is not essential to it. Philippians 2:7 draws a similar distinction on the human side of the Kenosis; there is here a servant form and also a human nature. A man may cease to be a servant, but he cannot cease to be a man. Likewise, Deity may change form, but not nature.”[64]

All of this asserts that the laying aside never presupposes a negation of attributes, either as God or as man; it simply limits their employment to an active cessation for a limited and specified duration. Even in this, there must remain an acknowledgement of the potential activation at any time however, in order to remain true to Scripture. The implication remains the same to God: to employ independent expression during the Kenosis would have violated Divine decree pertaining to self-limitation. As McClain alleges in a statement against the modern problems in the Kenotic theological interpretation, “the Logos gave up the use of the divine attributes during the period of His earthly life, though if interpreted rightly this statement may be accepted as a true account.”[65] McClain sees there is a semblance of truth in the proposition of Kenosis, limitations, and in this papers consideration: peccability.

This being the point, when understood in the light of the voluntary relinquishing of divine prerogatives Kenosis and peccability are intertwined with the reality of God’s sovereignty and fore-knowledge. As such, the question of peccability/impeccability will be answered in the illuminating truths found in the Kenosis passage of Philippians 2:5-11 if it is treated appropriately and approached correctly. From this vantage point Jesus is seen as having the human potential to sin just as the first Adam did. However, His interaction with the other members of the Godhead eliminates this as a possibility of ever being brought into existence. As in many matters of scriptural interpretation, the issue isn’t ‘either or’, rather it is ‘both and’. Jesus as man and as God, in a sense, both could have sinned and conversely could never be capable of this type of violation, as He was God who is incapable of sinning while at the same time being a man who could.

 

 

 

 

 

[1][1]All Biblical citations are taken from the NKJV for this paper.

[2]Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. 38, pp. 1-55, 161-188.

[3]Packer, Knowing God p.89

[4]Op.cit.p.89

[5]Boice, God the Redeemer, p.124, 5

[6] NKJV, Nelson Publishers, 1991

[7] Op.cit. Nelson, 1991

[8] Nicene Fathers, 38 Volumes, Vol. 1, p.52, Ignatius

[9]Op.cit. Vol. 1, p.86, Ignatius

[10]Op.cit. Vol. 8, p.756, Melito

[11]Op.cit. Vol. 1, p.454, Irenaeus

[12]Op.cit. Vol. 3, p.252, Tertullian

[13]Op.cit. Vol. 5, p.164, Hippolytus

[14]Journal Article, The Master’s Seminary Journal, Spring, 1998, Kenosis, Dr. McClain, p.86

[15]Ibid. McClain, p.86

[16] See B.B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory, pp. 247-261, as well as Murray J. Harris in Jesus as God for excellent perspective on this subject.

[17]Dictionary of Latin and Greek Terms, Richard Muller, p.148

[18]Op.cit. Muller, p.33

[19]Theology for Today, Elmer Towns, p. 152

[20]Jesus Christ Our Lord, Walvoord, pp. 145, 6

[21]Ibid. P.145

[22]Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes, 1877 original print, Vol. 2, p.457

[23]Op.cit. Major Bible Themes, p.56

[24]Op.cit. Walvoord, p.56

[25]Op.cit. Muller, p.316

[26]Op.cit. Muller, p.219

[27]Ibid. Muller, p.219

[28]For an interesting and narrow interpretation of the Kenosis passage as a simple hymn only, refer to a published article (The Preacher’s Magazine, 1986) by Kenneth Bratcher concerning the poured out life: The Kenosis Hymn in Context. This article alleges the Pauline reference is exclusively limited to the citizenship nature of imitation, calling upon Philippi’s intense pride in belonging to the Roman Empire. It can be viewed at The Christian Research Institute web site: www.crisourcei.org/kenosis

[29]Christian Doctrine, Shirley Guthrie, John Knox Press, 1946, p. 52

[30]Op.cit. Rodney Decker, 9 page Internet article at: http//www.faculty.bbc.edu/rdecker/rd_ken.  Decker represents the more extreme Calvinistic/Reformed viewpoint concerning the Kenosis and impeccability. The above quotes are various excerpts taken from the article.

[31]Op.cit. Walvoord, p.144

[32]See Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry C. Thiessen, pp. 215- 218

[33] See H.D. McDonald’s insightful treatment of Jesus humanity and progressive revelation and self-disclosure/awareness in Jesus: Human and Divine.

[34] For a variant view see A.J.B. Higgins, Jesus and the Son of Man. Higgins presents the liberal view as perceived by the German Kenotic field.

[35]Op.cit. Walvoord and Chafer, Jesus Christ Our Lord and Major Bible Themes, p.144

[36] A Theology of the New Testament, George Eldon Ladd, 1974, p. 397

[37]Op.cit. Ladd, p.416

[38]Op.cit. Ladd, 416

[39]Op.cit. McClain, TMSJ, p.88

[40]Ibid. McClain, TMSJ, p88

[41]Op.cit. Ladd, 416

[42]D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 1996, p. 45

[43]For an interesting variation of the importance of proper usage genre, grammar, etc. see Linguistic and Biblical Interpretation, IVP. The authors, Peter Cottrell and Max Turner, arrive at many of the same conclusions, as does DA Carson, although from a Liberal perspective, thus making it an interesting read.

[44] Refer to Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics and Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text for a full and fair analysis of the governing rules and principles relating to the field of Hermeneutics, as well as Bernard Ramm’s Protestant Biblical Interpretation.

[45]Op.cit. D.A. Carson, this is a third person reference taking a quote from Dr. Decker’s article on the Kenosis passage.

[46]Op.cit. Walvoord, p. 144

[47]Op.cit. Chafer/Walvoord, Major Bible Themes, pp.57, 8

[48]Holman Dictionary of the Bible, Trent Butler, Ed. Article on Temptation, p.1333

[49]Op.cit. Dr. Ladd. His examination is insightful and germane to the issue at hand. For further study on this topic, the cosmic nature, see pages 397-407.

[50]See article on Son of God, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1975, 1976, pp.480-485

[51] Myer Pearlman gives deep insight into this area of study, the message and work of Jesus Christ in a simple and concise format in The Life and Teaching of Christ from a conservative, Pentecostal perspective. GPH, Springfield, MO.

[52][52][52]

_ Op.cit. Muller, p.220

[53]Op.cit. Walvoord, p.144

[54]Ibid. P.144

[55]Ibid. P.144

[56] An interesting case could be made for the examination of the supposed Third Wave theologians such as John Wimber of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship organization and men like John Deere and C. Peter Wagner’s views on Jesus sole dependence upon the Father to perform the miraculous power expressions found in the New Testament.

[57]Ibid. P.144

[58]Ibid. P.144

[59]Ibid. P.144

[60]See Course Textbook for Theology 510, Liberty University, EDP, Theology for Today, Dr. Elmer Towns, and his treatment of the Old Testament appearances of Christ in the guise of The Angel of the Lord.

[61]Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell Ed. This is taken from an article on the Kenosis, p. 567

[62]Op.cit. Chafer, p.200

[63][63] Leon Morris gives another very good presentation as to the impact of Jesus as Christ in the life of the believer in, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, Erdmann’s Publishing Co.

[64]Op.cit. McClain, p. 91, 2

[65]Ibid. p. 93, 4

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